A Puzzling Wedding

by Brian on October 26, 2007

in Jewish Holidays and Culture

My brother Dave and Jen got married two weeks ago and it was a very puzzling wedding. You see, Dave runs Dr. Clue, the world’s largest corporate training organization focused exclusively on using treasure hunts as a team building activity. Jen, who has a doctorate from Stanford in economic sociology, has worked with Dave at Dr. Clue and wrote her first hunt when she was 16. It was a match made in heaven. So it’s not surprising that their wedding revolved around working through clues to solve a variety of challenging puzzles.

The fun started long before the wedding. Dave and Jen didn’t send out printed invitations. Instead, they emailed a series of puzzles – one a month for 7 months – giving some details of the wedding. One gave the date, another specified the time, a third revealed the place, and so on. For the less clued-in, a week after each puzzle went out, the answer was revealed.

Among the emails was a pictorial rebuses (where you translate pictures into text then add and subtract letters to spell out the clue –see an example here), a color coded poem, an all-text cryptogram, a stumper featuring car brands, another with movie titles, and a perplexing puzzle with a series of clocks displaying different times. Our whole family had a grand time working through the clues and 16-year-old Amir even used one puzzle as a team building activity of his own, bringing together members of his bunk at camp this past summer.

At the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding, some of the guests received a bottle of wine as a token of Dave and Jen’s appreciation. But not just any bottle of wine – this one was encased in a contraption made of wood and string that proved to be a puzzle waiting to be cracked before the cork could be popped.

Dave and Jen’s relationship was born and evolved around the business of writing clues. The two met at a post-hunt social hour and took off when Dave was heading out to create a hunt in Dallas and playfully suggested Jen could come along. She did, and after sneaking off to write a personal hunt for Dave, she knew that “this is the guy.” Dave says in pure puzzle-making spirit, that “as challenging as relationships are, I realized that with Jen I would gladly take up all challenges. That’s when I knew we should get married.”
When the big day itself finally arrived, the puzzle merriment continued unabated. The ceremony program listed not only who the groomsmen and maids of honor were, but included another rebus which Amir and his 14-year-old sister Merav solved in short order. The clue contained the phone number of Dave and Jen’s answering machine which in turn played a message instructing callers to look behind a bust of Shakespeare – the ceremony was held in the Shakespeare Garden of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park – where a basket of Hershey’s Kisses was waiting for daring problem solvers.

The ceremony itself was similarly unconventional. The wedding was officiated by a Buddhist priest and the vows were inspired by Dave and Jen’s Buddhist practice. In addition to taking each other as husband and wife, they vowed to “support and cherish all life,” “live together with generous and open hearts,” let go of any anger or impatience and strive for equanimity,” and “keep our minds open and fresh.”

Following the ceremony it was back to puzzle solving. Dave and Jen had put together an afternoon’s simulation of a full Dr. Clue treasure hunt – three hours of clues comprising 11 separate puzzles leading us to locations around Golden Gate Park. One of the clues involved deciphering Morse code; another employed a Dave and Jen-branded secret decoder ring which paired numbers with letters. There was a puzzle with shapes and numbers, another where we had to identify pictures of different flowers, a classical music composer match up and one with misspelled world capitals. In the park, we searched for benches with inscriptions and plaques with names of fallen war heroes. We managed to solve all 11 puzzles on paper but only had time to complete 7 of the puzzles on foot – all in all, not bad I’d say.

If we thought we’d get a chance to relax a little at the reception, we were playfully mistaken. Upon entering the Bocce Café in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, guests were presented with a “bingo card” with squares reading “A relative of the groom,” “has gone skydiving or bungee jumping,” “has a PhD,” and “speaks three languages,” among others. The game was to run around finding the person matching the description and get them to sign the bingo card. First ones to get five in a row won a prize (more candy Kisses).

Now, Dr. Clue is all about prodding individuals to get to know each other better, so our name tags read “ask me about…” (Jody’s read “financial planning”; we had a long conversation with a guest whose tag encouraged us to ask him about “love”). Hidden inside our name tags were colorful clues to yet another rebus which could only be solved by tables working together to swap information. The puzzle answer asked guests to take to the open microphone to offer words of advice to the newly married couple. (Dave had built a similar game for Merav’s bat mitzvah two years ago to equal aplomb.)

We paused the puzzle mongering while we ate our meal but there was one last activity saved for dessert. Instead of a single towering wedding cake, Dave and Jen had prepared 11 smaller cakes – one for each table – and then supplied guests with decorating supplies – icing, chewy cookies, and various flourishes – with which to personalize this sweetest of clues. The cake was pretty good too.

We finished the day exhausted but delighted. It was a wedding like none we’ve experienced before – and probably not like any we’ll ever attend again. It took 10 months to plan – for good reason.

Dave and Jen spent their wedding night at an undisclosed location – there were no clues to solve this time. After 12 hours of intense team building, the happy couple undoubtedly needed some alone time.

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